Grace, Linear Time, and Oxbow Lakes

Linear time holds special grace. It may not seem like much, or even seem like grace at all, but I’m convinced it is. In God’s unfathomable wisdom and grace, he ordered time (for us) in a linear fashion. While I love the wild imaginary concept of time in wrinkles or a wobbly Police Box, I think the best possible life experience is in one ordered moment at a time.

Time meanders along its riverbed—twisting and turning, plodding wide curves, bubbling over river rock, or crashing against boulders in rapids. Wherever it goes, it flows in an unrelenting forward direction. A strong image fills my mind when I read “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24). The prophet calls for unyielding truth; the river illustration fits perfectly.

The river of time marches on, and all is well until—well, rivers have a life of their own. As an illustration, the river really works!

An oxbow lake in formation. 2

Young rivers generally start off fairly straight. As time goes on, they erode their stream banks forming meanders in the river. The older they get the more pronounced this meander becomes. In some circumstances, this meander becomes so severe that the bank is eroded away permanently and cuts the meander off, once again forming a straight path for the river. When this happens, an Oxbow Lake is formed. 1

Isn’t that just perfect for the time metaphor? As children, we experience things fairly simply and straight forward, and then time seems to meander increasingly. What I love about the image of the oxbow lake formation is how an earlier point in time begins to inch ever closer to a point down the line—and they meet. I’ve experienced that. Have you?

My name said in just the right way. I hear it in the moment and decades ago, at the same time. Emotions are sparked.

The smell of fresh-baked oatmeal raisin cookies in a friend’s kitchen is now and in Oklahoma City when I was five.

An infant’s cry creates a wrinkle in time—now and 15 years ago intertwine.

There’s a fabulous polysyllabic term for it when it comes to our past mixing with the present: transference. When the future enmeshes with the present, anxiety is a danger. It happens. It’s normal, to a degree. God created most of us with the uniquely human ability to experience life this way. In a healthy form, a memory floats into our mind or a dream about our future takes shape. In the warped, sickly version, we muddle around on a scrambled timeline.

If your past overreaches into your present, you’re living two timelines simultaneously. If your future focus crowds your present, you’re rehearsing what may never be. How exhausting and foolish!

An oxbow lake separates from the river. 3

Ahhhh, the beautiful grace of linear time with a past, a present, and a future. May I always keep a clear mind of where I am in time (sometimes this is easier said than done). The best thing I can do is separate the past, present, and future into their proper places. It’s like the oxbow lake. There’s really no better flow than a straight line, so the lake forms, separate from the river that created it, with a lifespan as long as water continues to fill the old riverbed.

What’s a biblical perspective on this?

  • Remember the past and know your heritage (Deuteronomy 32:7).
  • Don’t dwell in your past; you miss the beauty of the present (Isaiah 43:18).
  • You have a future, and every detail has been carefully considered (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • You don’t know what your future holds; no sense in obsessing (Ecclesiastes 8:7).

I don’t know how you feel, but I want to live in the now. The timeline is packed with grace-filled moments, the Lord’s hand-picked opportunities for me to bless and grace others. And the whole time, I get to live life with him and by his power. I’m reminded that I exist in one moment at a time on a reasonably lengthy line between two dates. A healthy, sensible perspective and a biblical balance would be best:

Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you. Deuteronomy 32:7 ESV

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  Isaiah 43:18 CSB

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  James 4:13-15

I notice the Bible wisely uses the former generations and the past to instruct. The present is where God is doing a new thing. And the future is an “MC Hammer thing”—”Can’t touch this!” (not particularly biblical wisdom, but true). 4

Living in the moment means I keep the meandering path of time reasonable in my mind. Either an oxbow lake will never form because I’m presently aware, or when one does form, I will cut it off by separating the fused events, putting them in their appropriate space on the timeline, and proceeding in a straight path.

I suppose those are my meandering thoughts for today. I hope you enjoyed them.  😉


Questions to Think About:
Have you struggled to keep your past, present, and future in their right places?
Do specific events (past) or worries (future) inappropriately crowd the present? Take them to God in prayer.
Do you have practical tips for separating past, present, and future in a healthy way you could share?




4 “U Can’t Touch This.” MC Hammer. Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em, 1990.

Scripture sourced from


  1. Beautiful way of tying in Scripture for the past, present and future. Living in the now can be challenging for a plan-ahead freak like myself, but with Jesus’ help, I am giving it my best!

    1. I totally get that! Biblical balance is my goal. Honestly, we are told to be wise, count costs, etc. There is something to being thoughtful. It’s the careless or obsessive mindset the clearly doesn’t work.

      Ahhhhh, the tension in Scripture! 😀

  2. Yes! I enjoyed it very much! What a wonderful analogy. I love parables and object lessons, particularly when I learn about or am reminded of both physical and spiritual things. Thank you, Jennifer!

    Reminds me of a quote: “Remembering the work of God in our past is what provides perspective to do the will of God in the present.” —Chip Ingram

    One of the things that helps me not freak out about the future is remembering God’s provision in the past. Although I am responsible to use the wisdom He has provided, I also realize that some things are out of my hands and trust that He is in control— for His glory and our good. Along that same vein, another thing that helps is having the right perspective and expectations, which reminds me of another quote:

    “We’ve assumed that we’ll experience heaven on earth, and then we get disappointed when earth seems so unheavenly.” —Kevin DeYoung, author in “Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will”

  3. Beautifully expressed. Such wisdom here in understanding time and it’s place and purpose in our lives. I have to admit, I’m fascinated by time-travel, time warp stories, etc., but if I boil the fascination down to it’s basic elements, there is a craving there for power to control linear time as well as a desire for a glimpse of eternity with God where time will be no more and all the power of the universe will surround us, fill us and, who knows, be at our disposal perhaps as we have a view of all of history.

    1. Thanks for taking time to visit and leave a note. I appreciate it.

      Isn’t the control piece the hardest one? *sigh* I would love to know all that lies ahead…and direct a few things here and there… 😉 Then I realize how very good, perfect, and pleasing (not to mention, BRILLIANT) his will is. 🙂

      1. Yes, and recognizing that his will is cocooned and suffused with perfect love for me is so freeing. All fear is gone.

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